Friday, June 03, 2011

The Tasks Facing the Spanish "Angry Ones"

Night falls on the Madrid occupation
Nearly three weeks after thousands of mostly youthful protesters first occupied Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, the M-15 Movement of 'indignados' is starting to show signs that it is running out of steam. Unless it draws in wider layers of the working class, this is precisely what will happen.

The original occupation took place on the eve of Spanish local and regional elections, and this was the pretext that authorities used to ban the action. But by and large police were kept on a leash until after the elections had passed. By then, the movement had spread to Barcelona, Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia and Logrono. On 27th May, cops fired rubber bullets and beat Barcelona protesters, but the assault was resisted, and the state failed to clear the Plaza de Cataluna.

There is plenty to get excited about here. Unmistakably, the revolutionary 'contagion' has now crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa, and has reached the continent of Europe. Like much smaller demonstrations in neighbouring Portugal in March, the actions have been organised independently of the trade union and 'left party' stranglehold. Some will no doubt believe they are reanimating the spirit of the 1930s Spanish Revolution, but the overwhelming majority of participants seem to be 'non-political', and have planned mass demonstrations on Facebook and Twitter, just as they would have done any social gathering. For them - just as throughout the Arab world this spring - the horizontally-organised movement is the most logical and 'natural' expression of their material needs.

Barcelona occupiers resist police violence
Though Spain has yet to follow Portugal, Greece and Ireland in applying for an IMF/EU bailout, the 'centre-left' government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has already enforced harsh austerity measures, as demanded by the international finance aristocrats. Just three days before the Madrid occupation, the Prime Minister announced a 5% pay cut in civil service pay, a €6bn cut in public sector investment, €1.2bn in cuts by regional and local governments, a pension payments freeze, and abolition of a €2,500 childbirth allowance from next year. Even before this, youth unemployment was at more than 45%, and inflation was at 3.4%, so many millions were struggling to afford basic necessities. The situation will inevitably get worse for the Spanish working class, as the economy gets sucked deeper into the mire.

However, there are important limitations to the "indignado" movement as it currently stands. Most crucially, there seems to be little talk of overthrowing the Zapatero government, and replacing it with true democracy. Instead, there are feeble-sounding pleas for politicians to start "bringing our voice to the institutions". Working class control of the means of production is not generally demanded, but the "right" to "a happy life" is - with no concrete proposals about how this could be brought about. Broadly, these are the entreaties of people who feel powerless, because so many are outside of the industrial process.

The Spanish political class - like its counterparts around the world - is hostile to the interests of its working class. It slavishly follows the dictates of the stock and bond traders, who will allow no let up in the ruling class onslaught, and no interference in their own right to enormous and ever growing piles of riches. There is zero chance that the Spanish government will make concessions just because some public squares are occupied. Though Tahrir Square got the most media attention in the anti-Mubarak Egyptian revolution, it was a growing strike movement which eventually persuaded the army that he must go. If it is to make any progress, the young, angry, furiously beating heart of this new Spanish revolution must be infused with new blood from the broader working class, and it must raise truly revolutionary demands.
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